One of the best pieces advice I was ever given about writing came from an author friend of mine. We were emailing back and forth, and I was making excuses as to why I hadn’t written much for a while. At the time I figured that moving to the other side of the world, working a full-time managerial job, moving into a new apartment and still spending time with my young child were legitimate reasons for not putting words down on paper.
His response? “You can’t call yourself a writer if you don’t write.”
I wish this had not been a revolutionary concept to me, but I’ll be honest with you: it came as a shock. Writing was part of my personal identity, and somewhere along the line it had become something I was rather than something I did, and that was the problem. I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t even creating anymore. In the two years since I’d moved my family from one continent to another, I’d somehow lost all the momentum I’d built up in my writing career, let my well-received blog fade to obscurity and allowed my blossoming network of writers, readers, editors and publishing industry professionals to fade to black.
I couldn’t call myself a writer because I wasn’t even trying to write.
Admitting this wasn’t easy, nor was clambering down off the Excuse Express that had kept me comfortably at ease with my lack of progress. Even harder was trying to rebuild all those lost habits of getting words down on a page, of turning up at my desk to write regardless of what my muse happened to be up to that evening (she likes wine and watching Arrow on Netflix, in case you were wondering).
What did become easier was feeling that I could call myself a writer because being a writer isn’t about whether you are published or whether you are famous or whether you make enough to feed your offspring from the proceeds of your literary ramblings. You are a writer if you write.
Not long after I started to rebuild my skills as a word-wrangler, I re-discovered a Charles Bukowski poem from his anthology The Last Night of the Earth Poems, called air and light and time and space (if you haven’t read it, you really, really should). I used to read it to remind myself that I was just as able to create meaningful prose in the midst of a chaotic life as I was in the mythical future when I would have a cute, off-the-grid, chic little studio to work and write in.* Bukowski had it right; creators create and writers write, regardless of where they are and what their life is like.
It’s good to be a writer again.